Students have taken over Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan meeting chamber for over 106 hours. 12:00pm Friday marked the deadline the student-led mass gave to Taiwan’s dominant party, the KMT, to acknowledge and respond positively to their demands.
The unarmed assortment of young Taiwanese took action in the wake of the pending Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), after a long list of grievances on the island, in which the KMT is accused of going against the will of Taiwanese voting public. Voting on the controversial CSSTA was originally to be held today, but was interrupted by the movement. Their demands, dead-lined for noon today, were delivered in a speech from the floor yesterday (full quote at end of article).
While the students have been accused of defaming the premises, actual damage has been minimal. Most significantly, meeting chairs have been piled to block doors to prevent police from retaking the chamber. Student leaders have made statements encouraging respect, including a reminder not to place water bottles on the desks so as not to stain the wood. Other comments have included explaining that police were changing shifts, so as not to be alarmed by police movement and to remain calm.
While only a few hundred students occupy the actual chamber, the Taipei Times reported at least 10,000 were reported outside earlier in the demonstration, also reporting that 60% of the public supported the students. At 4:00am, Friday (morning), buses were reported arriving from universities across Taiwan. The KMT’s blog reported 20,000 students were present to protest their policy, stating that the movement is “unprecedented” in Taiwan’s history. The movement reported 25,000 at 4:00pm Friday through a g0v.hackfoldr.org page affiliated with the movement, seemingly controlled by a team of volunteers working in shifts. China Post reported that several flower shops had sent sunflowers in honor and support of the movement’s name “Sunflower Student Movement”.
Several reports from an internal communication feed (at hackfoldr.org) show students reminding each other to avoid any involvement with an apparent minority of sparsely-appearing provocateurs, generally regarded as insurgents. Peaceful student demonstrators seem to cooperate to take photos of people inciting violence before seizing them and handing them to the police, who are only a few meters away.
Police attempted to retake the chamber five times, but seem to be overcome by the will and rhetoric of the students. The caution of the police occurs in the shadow of a long-past history of violence from Taiwan’s government against the people which Taiwanese frequently congregate to remember. One such event is the 228 incident, remembered in Taiwan less than one month ago on Feb 28. While this may seem strange to Western readers, it is understandable in the context of Taiwan’s past.
When the demands were not responded to after the deadline of noon, Friday, students in the chamber broke into smaller focus groups to discuss what further action they will take. There is an apparent flow in and out of the chamber, generally changing to “enter only” in the evening to retain a feasible number of students to maintain control of the chamber. Employers and professors have excused students to join the movement across the island. Appearances have been made by musicians, professors, and even a student leader from the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, which should be noted that many authorities in China deny ever occurred.
The ethos of the movement seems to be an interesting blend. From the floor of the occupied Legislative Yuan, many speeches are delivered about democracy, defending free capitalism from crony capitalism, the dependence that capitalism has on democracy (not the reversal of the two), the employment and small business struggles that locals now have in regions like Hong Kong where economic policies compared to CSSTA have been implemented, the need for an “equal playing field” in a free market, and significant review of Constitutionalism. The KMT is accused by experts in the movement—including professors who speak from the floor of the occupied legislative chamber—of having supposedly circumvented the law and due process in order to pass CSSTA into effect without fulfilling the constitutional requirements.
Americans have inquired why such a demonstration was even necessary over a “mere trade agreement”. CSSTA reportedly allows unfettered access to Taiwan from Chinese businessmen, without any review or information given to the public. The negotiations were reportedly held in what Taiwanese call a “black box” series of secret backroom meetings. Under CSSTA, Chinese economic control and entry into Taiwan would not be held in check, as explained by the student movement.
Uncontrolled Chinese entry into Taiwan is especially concerning to Taiwanese since China currently has over 1,800 missiles aimed at the island and Taiwan’s President, Ma (馬英九), is known for his father’s dying wish, that Taiwan would become a region completely controlled under Chinese sovereignty—a turn of events that many argue go against Taiwan’s Constitution. So, Taiwanese don’t interpret this economic trade policy as merely one event in Taiwan’s political history, but a large step toward injuring Taiwan both politically and economically by expanding China’s non-transparent control over the Republic of Taiwan (ROC). Regardless of the historical and political context of the demonstration, the student movement has clarified that they are focused and determined on this issue specifically.
Of further interest to a Western audience may be the possible reactions from Washington. The United States has demonstrated much political and military interest in maintaining Taiwan as an ally. Geographically, Taiwan is the largest tropical land mass between California and the Chinese Mainland. Taiwan strategically rests in the Pacific between Western allies of Japan and South Korea in the north and the Philippines, Australia, and others in the south. If Chinese are able to enter Taiwan without being vetted, questions may arise of their intentions or whether they are members of a Chinese military infiltrating the island in civilian clothes.
In this sense, the CSSTA could lay in the groundwork for China to overtake Taiwan, much like Russian soldiers seemed already on the ground during the events surrounding the recent Crimea incident in Ukraine. With Crimea being in the headlines of Taiwan newspapers over the past several weeks, the CSSTA granting unfettered access to Taiwan from China may be an elevated reason for alarm. This may provide some explanation as to why Taiwanese students reacted so strongly against a service and trade policy for allegedly being “rammed through” the legal process.
Washington may respond through any number of scenarios. The Pentagon could interpret President Ma’s adamant support of CSSTA as a security breech that could open up allied soil to invasion against America’s interests. From another perspective, by insisting that the policy be passed by his deadline of June despite the protests in Taiwan, Washington may interpret Ma’s demands as inciting the public and potentially destabilizing Taiwan. In that case, another Crimea-like situation could arise in which China attempts to seize the island.
The KMT website responded to the Sunflower Movement by explaining why the CSSTA policy is ostensibly necessary and that Taiwan seems to be falling behind other countries in the region, such as Korea. With insistence from the KMT and Ma, in the face of 60% strong opposition of the Taiwan voting public, (the other 40% not necessarily supporting the KMT) questions may arise as to what the KMT political-democratic strategy is or if they have a strategy at all.
Taiwanese tend to view the KMT—the original “Nationalists” who were driven from Mainland China in 1949 by the Chinese Communist Party—as “not knowing when they’ve lost” because they have “had unchecked power for too long”. Losing 60% of the will of the public could harm the party’s future in Taiwan, raising many possible questions, including: whether the party was hoping that China may secure control of Taiwan before the next election and grand them future power, whether vote rigging is involved elections, or whether the KMT anticipates that the public would soon forget the incident. The KMT intentions are hard to interpret considering that, whether from the angle of security with Chinese entering without transparency or destabilizing the country or both, Washington may join the protest in its own way. But Washington, along with the American news media, has been silent.
While the situation may be compared to the relationship between Crimea and Russia, two principal differences exist. According to research at National Interest, 80% of Taiwanese favor independence from China while the vote in Crimea was over 96% in favor of reunification with Russia. Moreover, the United States already has a strong military presence in and around Taiwan. China would not have the same land advantage as Russia. If China were to interpret the Crimean Peninsula scenario as an indication that they could take Taiwan, the outcome would not likely be as stable as Crimea’s situation. If China succeeded, though Taiwan would likely be ruined, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and the US would be at a serious naval disadvantage.
Perhaps, as the situation drags on, management in the American press may eventually deem the events to be “headline worthy”.
One letter from a Japanese supporter referenced the fact that Taiwan donated more money to Japan in wake of the March 11, 2011 tsunami than any other country, including the USA:
Japaneses received a big favor from you during 311 earthquake, and we pay great attention to this brave movement. We look for a brighter future of Taiwan democracy. Cheers my friends!
As of 6:00pm Friday, the students in the chamber of the Legislative Yuan, in Taipei, had agreed to change their name from “occupy” to “retake” and were preparing for a press conference. Though some of the students report themselves as “tired”, in Taiwanese culture, this form of “tired” refers to an athlete about to cross the finish line, plentiful energy, not being to any point of exhaustion. Many communications from inside have clarified this, especially to their English-speaking audience. The movement was making preparations for another night’s stay in the chamber and was continuing to deliberate on the floor of the legislature as to what “further action” they would taken, having no response from the KMT concerning their demands.
Two live feeds of the event:
Demands delivered on the morning of March 20, English translation courtesy hackfoldr.org/congressoccupied:
“Let’s begin the press conference. First we should announce: We are here to oppose the CSSTA, and protect our Democracy!”
“We welcome all of our friends from the media. Since yesterday, we’ve received waves of support rushing in from all sides, with hundreds of people helping to secure the meeting hall, and more than 20,000 have gathered outside in support. There are buses coming in from Tainan, Kaohsiung, and other areas to support us. Students at many schools throughout the country have staged strikes in support, and some college professors are coming with their students to experience this real-life lesson in democracy.”
“We are representing the People, who want to take back our Parliament. We have demanded to speak with President Ma Ying-jeou, with the KMT legislative caucus, and with KMT speaker Wang Jin-pyng, but none has responded. They instead contend that the process has been entirely legal, and they are waiting for Friday’s parliamentary vote of approval.”
“The agreement is not an administrative order, it is an agreement between two states…President Ma says the process has been completely reasonable and legal. We do not accept that.”
“Our stance is very simple. The Services Agreement affects many market sectors and everyone’s future. Its passage will result in closer economic and political integration with China, and therefore we need to be very careful in reviewing this agreement. However, the agreement was drafted in a black box, and there has been no communication with Taiwanese citizens at all.”
“We want the agreement to be rescinded—not just back to the committee, but we want it thrown out. We don’t want an agreement that is made and decided in such a manner!”
“We demand Speaker Wang resolve the current situation in accordance with parliamentary rules and sanction Legislator Chang Ching-chung. We demand the Services Agreement be rescinded. We demand a Cross-Straits Agreements Regulation that allows the citizenry to oversee and regulate any agreements between Taiwan and China. Before this is in place, we demand that all negotiations with China be frozen.”
“Before tomorrow noon, we require your response to our demands. We invite President Ma to come to Parliament to speak with us. Tomorrow, at the time of the original scheduled vote, we demand Wang and Ma’s response. If we do not receive a favorable response, we will announce further actions.”
Update, from the movement’s news feed during the Friday 6:00pm press conference:
18:13 (Conference Hall) [Student Lin Fei-Fan] The following is the 6pm Press Conference on 3/21 inside the Taiwan Parliament.
We have 3 demands. 1) Ma should be fully responsible and respond to all three demands; Wang should respond directly and not engage in under-the-table negotiation. 2) Ma should respond to our request of rescinding the service trade agreement. ?? 3) If the ruling party does not respond to our demands by 12 AM, we would rally the people to sit in and surround the KMT Party offices throughout the nation. We would rally more people to come to occupy the Legislative Yuan, increase the level of protest.
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